had a feeling that the answer was quite different and that he ought
to know it, but he could not think of it. He began to get frightened,
and that is bad for thinking."
W. Bush, still smarting from his embarrassing performance in the Florida
debate, decided on Friday night in St. Louis that volume was a good
substitute for strength, that yelling would be mistaken for gravitas.
The result was an ugly, disturbing, genuinely frightening show.
In my report on the first debate, I described Bush as, "Shrill.
Defensive. Muddled. Angry, very angry. Repetitive. Uninformed. Outmatched.
Unprepared. Hesitant." As bad as that display was, it honestly
paled in comparison to the frenzied hectoring Bush sprayed at 140 Missouri
citizens who had the ill fortune of watching the man come unglued before
John Kerry, by comparison, was every inch the controlled prosecutor
pressing his case to the jury. It was, perhaps, that calm delineation
of Bush's myriad errors which caused the Republican candidate to blow
his stack. Exactly 30 minutes into the debate, Bush became so agitated
by Kerry's description of the "back-door draft," which is
literally bleeding the life out of our National Guard and Reserve forces,
that he lunged out of his chair and shrieked over moderator Charles
Gibson, who was trying to maintain some semblance of decorum.
tell Tony Blair we're going alone," Bush roared. "Tell Tony
Blair we're going alone!" The disturbed murmur from the crowd was
audible. Bush, simply, frightened them.
More unsettling than Bush's demonstrable agitation was his almost uncanny
disconnect from reality.
The voluminous report released by Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Survey
Group, compiled by 1,625 U.N. and U.S. weapons inspectors after two
years of searching some 1,700 sites in Iraq at a cost of more than $1
billion, stated flatly that no weapons of mass destruction exist in
that nation, that no weapons of mass destruction have existed in that
nation for years, and that any capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction
within that nation has been crumbling for the same amount of years.
opponent said that America must pass a global test before we used force
to protect ourselves," said Bush during the Iraq phase of the debate.
"That's the kind of mindset that says sanctions were working. That's
the kind of mindset that said, 'Let's keep it at the United Nations
and hope things go well.' Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could
have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions
were not working."
What? First of all, the Duelfer Report proves beyond any question that
sanctions had worked incredibly well. The stuff wasn't there, because
Scott Ritter and the UNSCOM inspectors destroyed it all during the 1990s,
along with any and all equipment and facilities to make it. The stuff
wasn't there because the sanctions put into place against Hussein prevented
him from getting any material to develop weapons. The stuff wasn't there
because Hussein stopped making it years ago, because the sanctions were
breaking his back. The sanctions worked.
When Bush made the statement about Hussein giving weapons of mass destruction
to "terrorist enemies," the needle edged over from 'Dumb'
to 'Deranged.' How many different ways must one say "The stuff
wasn't there" before George picks up the clue phone? How does someone
give away something he doesn't have?
Bush continued in this appalling vein when he said, "He keeps talking
about, 'Let the inspectors do their job.' It's naive and dangerous to
say that. That's what the Duelfer report showed." Welcome to Bush
World, where everything is upside down and two plus two equals a bag
of hammers. It is naive and dangerous to point out that the inspectors
got the job done in the 1990s, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction
whatsoever? No, George. It is simply the truth.
The mental disconnect reared its shouting head repeatedly throughout
the evening. Bush somehow lost track of where he was at one point and
called his opponent, "Senator Kennedy." He told one questioner
that he would control the deficit by stopping Congress from spending,
only a few minutes after defending the fact that he had never, not once,
vetoed a spending bill from Congress.
He made an accountant crack about "Battling green eyeshades,"
a statement that immediately became a first-ballot nominee for the Gibberish
Hall of Fame. When asked what kind of Supreme Court Justice he would
nominate if given an opportunity, he wandered off along a free-association
rant about Dred Scott. Clearly, this President will make sure to nominate
people to the bench who are opposed to chattel slavery.
Perhaps the most telling moment came when questioner Linda Grabel asked
Bush, "Please give three instances in which you came to realize
you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it."
As with his April prime time press conference, in which he was asked
a very similar question, Bush absolutely refused to admit to any errors
in judgment, beyond a cryptic quip about mistakes in personnel appointments
which he would not elaborate upon. He opened himself up to the judgment
of history, a sad straddle given the simple fact that no President can
avoid such a judgment. That was all he was willing to offer. Ms. Grabel
did not hear about three mistakes. She did not even hear about one.
Bush was every inch the angry man on Friday night, which is dangerous
enough. But to witness anger combined with belligerent ignorance, with
a willful denial of basic facts, to witness a man utterly incapable
of admitting to any mistakes while his clear errors in judgment are
costing his country in blood, to see that combination roiling within
the man who is in charge of the most awesome military arsenal in the
history of the planet, is more than dangerous.
It is flatly terrifying.
Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and international bestseller of two
books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The
Greatest Sedition is Silence.'